Investment firms turn their attention towards acquiring digital land, China works to manage its real estate debt, the European Union announces a multibillion-euro infrastructure bill, and more.
Amenity-rich buildings become a key focus in enticing employees back into the office, supply chain links are strained by a lack of storage capacity in warehouses and port areas, green lease signings are on the uptick, and more.
The new infrastructure bill proposes regulations for the cryptocurrency industry, the demand for logistics rental space increases, the Supreme Court ends the eviction moratorium, and more.
Diversity and inclusion efforts increase in the infrastructure industry, a recent United Nations report on climate change highlights its potential effects on real estate, construction projects fall behind schedule due to labor shortages, and more.
Presidential Executive Order 14008, “Tackling the Climate Crisis,” a long and unusually detailed Executive Order published in the Federal Register on February 1, 2021 (see 86 FR 7619), has generated considerable discussion and commentary. Below, I briefly outline its provisions.
What follows is a brief account of some of the notable U.S. environmental and administrative law cases recently decided.
THE U.S. SUPREME COURT
Nestle USA, Inc. et al. v. Doe, et al.
The Supreme Court has decided another important case interpreting the Alien Tort Statute. Released on June 17, 2021, this decision reverses the Ninth Circuit which had ruled that the respondents—six individuals who alleged they were child slaves employed on Ivory Coast cocoa farms, could sue the American-based companies for aiding and abetting child slave labor. Without dissent, the Court rejected this reading of the ATS and affirmed its own recent rulings on the scope of the ATS.
In a previous post, we described how the New York City Climate Mobilization Act, 2019 (the CMA, or Local Laws 92, 94, 95, 96, 97, and 147 enacted in 2019) was passed with the goal of reducing New York City’s carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and by 80 percent by 2050 (as against a 2005 baseline as provided for in item 3 of Local Law 97). It is the most ambitious building emissions law to be enacted by any city in the world. The CMA impacts “Covered Buildings” (described below) and, besides contemplating the retrofitting of Covered Buildings to achieve energy efficiency and establishing a monitoring program for Covered Buildings, the CMA contemplates compliance by means of the purchase of carbon offset credits or renewable energy. (Note the new NYC Accelerator program, launched in 2012 by the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, provides guidance regarding energy-efficient upgrades to properties and emission reductions.)
Environmental Justice, as an urgent priority of the Federal Government, dates back to 1994, and President Clinton’s issuance of Executive Order 12898. This order directed federal agencies to identify and address, as appropriate, the disproportionately high and adverse human health and environment effects of its many programs, policies and procedures on minority populations and low-income populations. The primary legal basis for this order was Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in particular, Sections 601 and 602, which prohibit discrimination in programs and activities receiving federal financial aid and assistance. Over the years, the Supreme Court has reviewed the scope and importance of Title VI. In Alexander v. Sandoval, decided in 2001, the Court concluded that while private parties could sue to enforce Section 601 or its implementing regulations, as written, Section 601 only prohibits intentional discrimination. Noting that disproportionate impact is not the sole touchstone of invidious racial discrimination. Moreover, the Court also ruled in Sandoval that private parties cannot sue to enforce regulations implementing Section 602. Perhaps as an acknowledgement of these shortcomings, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established an administrative system to process environmental justice complaints at 40 CFR Part 7. Without strengthening the statutory base of environmental justice, the program may continue to be the subject of countless symposiums and seminars. However, this may change soon.
Hydrogen is the new buzzword in every industry, and real estate is no exception. Hydrogen does not emit carbon dioxide when burnt and could therefore help reduce the climate impact of buildings, which in aggregate represent one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases after industry and surface transport. To the extent that hydrogen is to become an important power source globally, it will need to enter the domestic power market. The first step appears to be the development of pilot villages.
The Climate Mobilization Act constitutes a profound shift in the regulation of commercial real estate in New York City—and all stakeholders including building owners, investors, sellers and purchasers, tenants, and lenders will need to consider how to quantify and allocate the costs of compliance (or non-compliance). In “Sustainable Buildings and Development: Carbon Emissions and the Recent Climate Mobilization Act of New York City“, colleagues Caroline A. Harcourt and Sheila McCafferty Harvey, discuss the potential impact of the newly enacted Climate Mobilization Act (CMA or the Act) for developers and building owners, tenants and lenders operating or underwriting loans in New York City.